Shopping cart services oppose city’s destruction of store property

The head of a company tasked with recovering shopping carts from grocers and retail stores sends a message to San Diego city crews destroying them.

Please stop.

Matthew Dodson, manager of a shopping cart recovery service with 5,000 customers in California, said retailers likely spend millions of dollars every year to replace lost shopping carts. The idea that some are deliberately destroyed before his company can retrieve them is particularly frustrating.

Yet that’s what’s been happening in recent months in downtown San Diego and a few other areas where the city has stepped up enforcement of laws prohibiting homeless encampments on sidewalks. During cleanups, crews toss disassembled shopping carts and bicycles, many of which are just missing a wheel, into a garbage truck, where they are crushed and hauled to a landfill.

Alma Rife, San Diego’s public information officer, said the city contacts the RMS basket recovery service when people report baskets in public places through the city’s Get It Done app.

“Cart owners have the option of installing anti-theft devices that would prevent these carts from ending up in canyons, riverbeds or sidewalks,” she said of how stores could do more to protect their carts.

While Rife said the city was trying to contact RMS, Dodson’s company, he said the messages might not get through and he wanted to work with the city to establish a better connection.

“I will contact the city to try to open communications on our side,” Dodson said. “The key to all of this is really communication, so many of these issues can be resolved with a simple conversation and follow through to get the practices in place.”

In mid-July, city officials were asked why shopping carts found in homeless encampments were being destroyed rather than returned to their owners. The matter was escalated to RMS, and conversations with city officials on Friday still did not explain why the carts were destroyed.

Dodson, who is president of RMS’ cart recovery service, CarTrac, said he was unaware the city was destroying the carts on site until he was contacted for comment on the policy, which he said. him, makes it extremely difficult for grocers and retailers to get their property back.

Local RMS customers include Target, CVS, Sprouts, Food 4 Less, Walmart, Ralphs and nearly every grocery store in San Diego County, he said. The company has crews in San Diego, Chula Vista, El Cajon, Fallbrook and Vista.

Dodson said other examples of how cities can work with cart recovery services already exist in other cities.

“Glendale has a program in place where they really communicate with grocers so they can get those carts back for use by customers,” he said. “The City of Los Angeles, specifically the LAPD, has a community policing department where they call us before we go out, and we work cooperatively with them to be there when the authorities are there.”

Besides being wasteful, Dodson said destroying shopping carts is also illegal. A section of California’s Business and Professions Code states that cities and counties must notify retailers if baskets are confiscated, and they must be kept for 30 days before being discarded or sold.

City officials have not commented on Dodson’s allegation of the code violation.

In Oceanside, the Glide Rite cart recovery service contracts with Home Depot and other stores. Roy Shauli, regional operations manager for Glide Rite, said his company coordinates with the city on a weekly round.

“We have great relationships with some law enforcement agencies, code enforcement officers, sanitation departments,” he said of how Glide Rite works in many places. other cities.

“But not in every city,” he said. “I wish that were the case. If so, it would be much better for the community and my clients.

Dodson also said that many cities other than San Diego destroyed shopping carts before recovery services could save them, and he noted that San Francisco was particularly aggressive.

Neither RMS nor Glide Rite pick up shopping carts for Home Depot in the city of San Diego, although many of the store’s orange carts can often be seen in homeless encampments.

Christina Cornell, communications manager for The Home Depot, said the company doesn’t want its carts destroyed.

“We’re working with cities across the country to recover lost or stolen carts, and we’re engaging with city leaders in California to do the same,” she said in an email from the company’s headquarters. company in Atlanta.

Dobson and Shauli said their crew members approach homeless people with respect and caution when trying to retrieve a cart, often offering them water or a snack when they ask for a cart. On a recent afternoon in Clairemont, RMS District Supervisor Christian Ramirez spotted a few caddies at an encampment on Shawline Street.

“I prefer to ask them if I can take it,” he said, adding that he only takes carts that are empty or contain only waste. He won’t throw away his personal belongings, he said.

RMS employee Christian Ramirez (left) prepares to retrieve a shopping cart from a roadside encampment as homeless Richard Fish looks on.

(Ariana Drehsler/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Ramirez said he picks up 80 to 100 carts a day, and about 25% are from homeless people. In the Shawline camp, he noticed two carts being used to tie down a tarp protecting an empty camp, so he decided to leave them behind.

He changed his mind after Richard Fish approached Ramirez and told him it was okay to take the carts, which he said were used by his brother at the camp.

“It’s up to them, so what are you going to do?” says Fish, 57.

As he watched Ramirez load the carts into his pickup, Fish admitted he would likely find another couple of carts to replace them.

During a recent cleanup of an encampment on Anna Avenue in San Diego, a police officer was asked why carts were thrown into a garbage truck rather than returned to their owners. The officer said the shops wouldn’t want them after they were in an encampment.

This didn’t sit well with Shauli.

“It’s really bad for a policeman to say, ‘We’re just going to throw it away, nobody wants that,'” he said. “First of all, it’s Home Depot property.”

Dobson also said stores appreciate the return of their carts, which are usually cleaned and returned to service.

“Even a fairly dirty cart, the cost to clean it is less than $10,” Dodson said, adding that his company also repairs carts that have been damaged.

Shopping carts cost between $150 and $300, and Dodson said his retail customers lose an average of 5-10% of their carts each year.

“It adds up,” he said.

Besides shopping carts, bike parts found in homeless encampments are also thrown into garbage trucks and crushed.

“It’s very disturbing to us,” William Rhatigan, advocacy director for the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said of the many bicycle parts that have been destroyed in recent weeks. “Many homeless people rely on bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.”

Some of the bikes may have been stolen, and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s office said in June that the city was considering a 90-day repossession program to give owners the opportunity to reclaim their property.

Bikes that go unclaimed could be donated to a bike advocacy group that can make repairs and redistribute them according to the plan discussed by the mayor’s office.

Rhatigan said the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition reached out to the mayor’s office to work with them on the program. More than a month after its announcement, however, the program has still not premiered.